Care Experts Explore Ltc Future
Kleyman, Paul, Aging Today
Second of two articles
Should boomers quit their jobs when called on to care for their ailing parents? What can be done to encourage families to seek hospice and palliative care early enough for elders to benefit the most? How can professionals in aging help families culturally sensitive to the stigma of mental illness deal more forthrightly with signs of dementia in their elders? What are the keys to creating an effective long-term care (LTC) support system for family caregivers?
These are some of the wide-ranging concerns about family caregiving that a panel of national experts discussed at the closing general session of the Aging in America Conference of the National Council on Aging and American Society on Aging (ASA) in Washington, D.C., in March.
The session opened with an address by Gail Sheehy, the bestselling author of Passages and 14 other books, who also moderated the panel discussion. An article previous to this one, published in the May-June 2008 issue of Aging Today (available online at www.agingtoday. org), reported on Sheehy's dramatic description of her caregiving experience with her husband, groundbreaking magazine editor clay Felker. (Felker, age 82, died of cancer in July.)
QUITTING A JOB?
In researching her forthcoming book, tentatively titled The Caregiver Diaries, Sheehy said she learned that among the top questions the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) hot line receives is, "Should I give up or cut back on my job, or should I move to another part of the country to take care of Mom or Dad?" Sheehy asked Lynn Friss Feinberg, deputy director of the FCA's National Center on Caregiving in San Francisco, what adult children should consider in making this decision.
Feinberg noted that people who examine whether to quit their jobs frequently say, "My parents won't let anybody else help out." She continued, however, "More than likely it's not a good idea. I never want to generalize to everyone, but often when adult children find themselves in the middle, they're not thinking of the loss of Social Security credits if they drop out of the labor force, the loss of savings for their own future retirement. Many wouldn't be able to pay for health insurance for their families, and some research shows that women and men who drop out of the workforce to care for their aging parents are more likely to live in poverty in old age."
Feinberg, who spent the past year as a Heinz Foundation senior fellow providing health policy analysis to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., observed that the United States needs more options to obviate caregiving dilemmas such as this one. An encouraging development, she said, is the current governmental policy shift from mainly funding institutional placements to supporting homecare and community-based care. She added, though, "We also have to provide support for the family caregiver. Otherwise, we'll go back to institutionalization, to the old days. That means having paid family leave, so that family caregivers don't have to quit their jobs. Every other industrialized country has this."
Feinberg urged the conference audience to support LTC measures, such as the bipartisan respite care bill that is now in Congress, and to advocate for greater funding of National Family Caregiver Support Act programs, whose funding was limited to only $ 162 million for 2008.
A positive development toward support for these and other programs, Feinberg said, is the aging of the boomer generation, which increasingly is exposing the public to "the severe human toll of longterm caregiving." In the next two to three years, she went on, "we are poised as family caregivers and advocates in aging to move the issue forward. And if we don't do it, no one's going to do it for us."
Robyn Golden, director of older adult programs at Rush University Medical Center and 2006-2008 chair of the ASA board, agreed that although the National Family Caregiver Support Act requires greater funding to be effective, its passage was an important step. …